Most people stay at a company less than seven years. Most young people stay at a company less than two. So why are companies still set up for people who stay 40 years and climb the ladder? It makes no sense, and frustrates nearly all workers.
Well, all workers who aren’t at the top of the ladder, anyway. Those at the top surely think keeping the ladder there is a good idea, because what was the point of their climb if no one is climbing up after them?
Fortunately, there are ways to circumvent this way of thinking. You can’t change corporate structures and procedures, but you can sidestep them in a way that gets you more interesting work and higher pay without having to trudge up an anachronistic ladder. Here are four:
1. Get on a team.
“Teamwork” is one of the big corporate buzzwords of the last two decades. This is because companies with effective teams do better than companies without them.
The problem is that baby boomers never learned to play on teams. They’re the consummate competitors, born into a demographic in which there were always too many candidates for every position. Boomers are thus keen competitors, measuring each other up for everything. So the data that showed the importance of teams was followed quickly by a round of consulting companies specializing in teaching people how to be in multidisciplinary, non-hierarchical teams.
Then came Generation Y, the best team players in history. They did book reports in teams, went shopping in groups — they’re so team-oriented they even went to the prom in packs.
Put these two groups in a room and tell them to be a team, and you know what happens? The young people run circles around the older ones. The older workers try to establish a hierarchy while the younger ones are oblivious because they’re busy tossing out ideas.
A messy scene, for sure, but this is the way to get heard, and this is the way to shine outside the hierarchy: Get on a team, speak your mind, and implement your ideas — all while the baby boomers are worrying about hierarchy.
2. Job hop.
The rules for when you can be promoted, when your salary can increase, and when you’re eligible for training are all strict and senseless and essentially a waste of your time. Why should you wait for these things when you’re not staying with the company more than a few years anyway?
If your learning curve is flattening because your company can’t promote you to another level, take things into your own hands and go to another company. That is a fast way to give yourself a promotion without having to endure the duress of a corporate structure.
Job-hopping used to be the sign of a disloyal employee, but today we know better. In today’s workplace, frequent job change is a way to stay engaged in your work, and job-hopping among positions you’re good at actually builds your skill set and network much faster than if you stay in one job for a long time. This is why job hopping is a great tool — it can actually provide your career path with a stable, upward slope.
3. Start your own business.
You don’t need a lot of money to start your own company, because most of the tools to open up shop online are free. And in most cases, marketing is cheap and easy if you can establish a viral networking effect among your friends. This is why, in the short time that Generation Y has been in the workforce, they’ve already made a mark as a generation of entrepreneurs.
In addition to being fast and easy to do, starting a company lets you do interesting work you can control without having to wait to get to the top of a corporate ladder. Some people quit their jobs to start a company while others run theirs on the weekend. Increasingly, however, people are running a company from their corporate cubicle.
4. Be nice.
You know who gets promoted the fastest? The person your boss likes the most. So why not spend your time making sure you’re that person? Don’t dish out any excuses about how you won’t kiss up — a kiss-up is someone who tries to be nice but is instead insipid. I’m not recommending that you be insipid.
What I am recommending is that you genuinely try to figure out what your boss needs from you and how to give it to him. Determine how to make extra time in your day to help your boss out, and figure out what she needs help with before she realizes it. And then be there.
Office politics is often a way to sidestep corporate hierarchy, and the great news is that if you’re nice this will be right up your alley. Because office politics is about being nice. And how can you resist training yourself to be nice at work?